The Buccaneers made the trip over to Altrincham on Saturday evening to take on Trafford Thunder in our first game of the 2023 season; a challenge match ahead of our first Summer Classic games in May.
James Harrison in goal and Jon Bowen on the wing were both making their debuts for the club.
The Buccs were straight out of the blocks early with all three line 1 forwards involved in build-up play that culminated in Ian McQuade-Gilligan putting the visitors in front after just 41 seconds. Nuttall Jr and Frewin picking up the assists.
Inevitably, Trafford settled into the game and with 7.28 on the clock Aaron Baldwin scored the first of an impressive natural hat-trick. The Thunder continued the pressure on the Buccs goal and Baldwin’s second from Hall put the home side in front on 13.34.
The Buccs forged a number of chances before the end of the period but a string of fine saves from Trafford MVP Aran Fox kept them in front at the break.
The away side continued the pressure into the second period but Fox was equal to everything. Arguably slightly against the run of play, Thunder then broke into the Buccs zone and Baldwin completed his hat-trick by firing in low from a tight angle past Harrison.
Just 45 seconds later the Buccaneers struck back as Michael Walsh broke into the Thunder zone and fired low past Fox. That was Fox’s last action in the game as he was replaced by David Elliot at the halfway point of the game.
With Fisher sat in the Trafford penalty box, the Buccaneers moved the puck around the zone patiently and Frewin found Burns down low who played the puck out to Walsh on the point. Walsh’s slap shot found it’s way through traffic past Elliot to bring the game all square.
Both teams had chances before the end of the period but both Harrison and Elliot kept the attackers at bay. With 57 seconds left of the second period, a melee in the Buccaneers crease left Harrison at the bottom of a pile-up resulting in an injury that forced him out of the game. A really unfortunate end to what had been a fantastic debut from the young goaltender. With no back-up on the bench, referee Andy MacKinnon called the period early to allow Walsh to put on Harrison’s kit and see out the remainder of the game in the Buccs goal.
The third period came and the Buccaneers skaters did a great job of keeping the play in the Trafford zone for long periods. That pressure paid off when Frewin laid a pass back to McQuade-Gilligan on the point who lasered a slap shot into the Trafford net. Then just a minute later, another shot from McQuade-Gilligan was followed up by Thomson. Despite a good double save from Elliot, the puck was loose and Burns was quickest to react, poking the puck home to give the Buccs a 2 goal lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Trafford responded with some pressure of their own and a combination of committed defensive work and a few saves from Walsh kept them at bay until Leech found Simon Cawley free in the slot and he made no mistake in cutting the deficit to one.
Just two minutes later, it was Cawley again who carried the puck into the Buccs zone and managed to squeeze the puck through Walsh’s pads to level the game.
Hadfield for the Thunder was called for hooking on 57.44 but the Buccs couldn’t convert on the power play and the game ended all square – a result neither team could complain about.
Everyone at the Buccaneers wishes the Thunder player well who left the game injured after a nasty collision with the boards.
MVP for the Thunder was given to Aran Fox for a fantastic display between the pipes for the first half of the game. For the Buccaneers it was given to Frewin who racked up 3 assists and was a consistent threat all night.
We now look ahead to our first Summer Classic game of the season when we welcome Hull Knights to Blackburn Arena on 7th May.